Understanding Between Generations

The fellow on the right is my grandfather, Nicholas Demma, in 1945. He was about my age making a stop in Hawaii on his way back from the Japanese theater. Shortly after this picture he entered the workforce as a small business owner in small town America. He worked long hard hours, led a simple life at home, and lived out the rest of his days peacefully.

I think my grandfather’s story is common for his generation. Raised in the depression and hardened in World War II, the Greatest Generation understood the value of hard work and put the well-being of the group (platoon, coworkers, family, etc) before their own utility.

Last week I wrote about how my generation, Generation Y or the Millennial Generation, wants success, achievement, and riches but we are less willing than my grandfather’s generation to work hard. Is there a reason we know-it-all brats at the office think we are so special? Maybe telling my story will help answer why an entire generation of Americans seems to think they are all above average.

Since I was a kid, mom and dad told me I was special and I could achieve anything. I don’t think my parents wanted to be as tough on me as their parents were on them, so they encouraged my independent nature. Today I am comfortable questioning authority, disregarding the chain of command at work and expecting greatness from myself.

I was lucky to open my eyes at the dawn of the information age, and education and technology became major themes of my childhood. Everyone assumed I would go to college from the beginning of my schooling. At five Mom gave me my first computer – a Nintendo. When I was ten, I learned about real computers in school and the soon to be readily available information superhighway. When I was fifteen I was online talking to ten friends at a time on AOL instant messenger. By twenty, I was emailing professors and collaborating with classmates online (albeit via Xbox Live). Today nearly everything in my life is digital and shared through social networks. Quite a different start to life compared to Grandpa Nick.

Will the rest of my story, the millennial story, be about more than technology, innovation and pie-in-the-sky goals? I think so. Our reluctance towards hard work could be viewed as a return of family values. Also, have you noticed a recent increase in social awareness and philanthropy among young people? With over half of millenials yet to start their adult working lives, we have to wait and see how the rest of our story plays out.

There are four generations working together for the first time in history, each growing up in their own unique time and with a unique value set today. Maybe we all can learn a lesson or two from the Greatest Generation. There’s more to life than work, but if we’re going to spend the next fifty years working together we should probably seek to understand our stories and learn to work together.